Monday, May 28, 2012

Sunday Birdy Sunday

Just spent my Sunday with birder friends in two nearby sites to see some pretty amazing birds.

Birding at the tunnel entrance leading to the petroglyphs, one of the sites we visited last Sunday.

Sunday started early in La Mesa Ecopark to conduct a guided birdwatching trip. We entered the park and immediately saw some of our friends observing a pair of Ashy Ground-Thrushes, hopping on the ground. The beautifully spotted birds looked like they were gathering nesting materials!

When we all had our "fill" of the Thrushes, our group decided to proceed to the trail to try and spot the Slaty-legged Crake that has been seen there. A few meters down the road, an Emerald Dove flew in front of us to perch on a nearby tree. Some of us continued walking on while I spent some time observing the Dove with a few friends. Suddenly, the first group of birders started gesturing frantically at us! As we neared them, their news was: the Slaty-legged Crake just crossed the path in front of them! Wah! We missed it!

We waited a bit for the Crake to show itself but it didn't come out from the foliage. We proceeded towards the trail and waited. We saw more Ashy Ground-Thrushes hopping around AND I was able to see a Hooded Pitta! It was the first time I saw it there and even if it was only for a few seconds, I was really happy with the unobstructed view I got.

Jops, Jon J., Clemence and I headed back to the Drilon Orchidarium to meet up with Mike and the participants of the guided trip. It was a pretty amazing bird list for most of the first-time birders: Ashy Ground-Thrush, nesting Lowland White-Eyes, Collared Kingfisher, Philippine Coucal, Scaly-breasted Munias... not bad at all for their first set of lifers! We ended the trip birding at the old boating pavillion.

The birding group spotting an Ashy Ground-Thrush.

After packing up and grabbing a quick lunch, members of the WBCP (and a couple of very eager participants) convoyed to the Angono Petroglyphs in Rizal to see the family of Philippine Eagle Owls who have taken up residence in the site. When we arrived, we saw Vincent, fellow WBCP member who first spotted the owls. He said when he arrived a couple of hours earlier, two owls were perched on the trees but one flew away before we got there. We went up to the view deck and enjoyed the views of one Philippine Eagle Owl, peering curiously down at us from his high perch.

Digiscoped photo of the Philippine Eagle Owl.

We stayed just for a bit, also enjoying great views of a White-throated Kingfisher and a small flock of Elegant Tits which flew so close to us (thanks, Rob!)

Digiscoped photo of the very behaved White-throated Kingfisher.

When the thunder started rolling in and the sky got a bit darker, we packed up, said our goodbyes and headed back home. Great way to spend a Sunday: easy birding with great company =)

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Thrush's Concert

I have never been to any major music concert. But earlier today, I felt what I imagined people feel when they watch an amazing singer or band perform live. The only difference was that I wasn't watching a human perform. I was watching a bird. I was watching a solo concert of the Ashy Ground-Thrush. And we had front row seats!

Presenting... the singing Ashy Ground-Thrush.

Jops, Jun, and I had just decided to go to the La Mesa Ecopark to do some birding for the morning. We were walking towards the trail where we usually bird in, and we already heard Oriental Magpie Robins calling. We also heard White-collared Kingfishers, Black-naped Orioles and Philippine Pygmy Woodpeckers. Among the many bird calls, one stood out as really loud and new to us. We looked at each other with inquiring faces, "Ano yun?!" ("What is that?!")

We stopped and tried to spot the bird making the beautiful call. It took only a few minutes before Jops was pointing excitedly at a branch just in front of us. Perched quite low was a gorgeously spotted Ashy Ground-Thrush, singing for all to hear! It was such a wonderful feeling seeing it singing the song that got our attention in the first place. I honestly did not expect to see the Thrush as the bird making the call.

The call was very melodious, the tune going up and down alternately. The Thrush would also make a very low purring sound at irregular intervals. The first time I actually saw the Thrush make that particular sound, I couldn't help but say "Cool." even though I knew I was taking a video of it (1:22)! We also saw the Thrush change the "tempo" of its call, at one time slowing it down to a drawl.


It stayed long enough for me to digiscope photos and short videos before it flew deeper into the trees. Jops and Jun were able to take photos and sound recordings of the Thrush. We stayed in the area to try and spot a Hooded Pitta that we also heard calling.

After a while, we heard the Thrush singing again. It sounded pretty close and after some scanning, we spotted it again, still perched quite close to where we were. This time, we could hear another Thrush answering farther away! I think I was able to capture the more distant Thrush singing in this video (0:36):


It flew away, maybe towards the other singing Thrush (I can only assume.) It did come back again, still very close to us. We were able to scope it and show the bird to some park goers who were interested in what we were doing and in the call they were actually hearing.

After a while, the Thrush flew away and we decided to hit the trail. More and more people were passing by the area too. The trail was pretty quiet and we didn't stay too long. I guess, for that morning, nothing could beat the concert we had just seen.

Friday, May 11, 2012

One Nest at a Time

Birding the past few months has led me to see different nests. I have to admit that I don't usually see nests on my own and it's always a pleasant surprise when I see one (after it is pointed out to me.) The nests I've seen were located in different areas and habitats: from a trail in Bangkong Kahoy Valley to two schools in Quezon City. The birds have been hard at work! They have been through courtship and mating, building their nests, hatching their eggs and now raising their young. 

I tried my best to document the nests I have seen the past month. I have missed a nest or two but here are some nests I've seen this year.

Yellow-vented Bulbul - I saw this nest by the reception area of Villa Escudero. Carmela pointed it out to us during a guided birdwatching trip we conducted there just last month. The young birds had just left the nest  a day before we arrived.

According to A Guide to the Birds of the Philippines (a.k.a. the Kennedy guide), the Yellow-vented Bulbul makes cup-shaped nests made from grasses and roots. The nests have been observed to be placed one to three meters from the ground and are fairly noticeable.

I remember last year, we found a YVB's nest in a low shrub in Jops' front yard! We could easily peer into the nest, which had three chicks at that time.


Long-tailed Shrike - During a birdwalk in Ateneo led by Trinket and Adri, the group found a nest of a pair of Long-tailed Shrikes. The tree it was built on was just beside the sidewalk and a very busy street, both with human and vehicular traffic.

According to the Kennedy guide, Long-tailed Shrikes build their cup-shaped nests "1 to 3 meters from the ground in hedge rows or low trees." This nest we saw was a bit high up, and cleverly covered by leaves.

We were able to observe the adult birds returning to the nest with some nesting materials and food.

Little Heron - I did not expect to see the nest of this bird high atop a tree! WBCP friend Jon J. reported this nest which he saw in the Phil. Science HS campus. He was also able to document the adult bird on the nest! When we were in the campus for a guided trip, we saw the nest but it looked empty. 

It looked like a heavy nest, made of quite large twigs instead of grass and straw. We did discover an eggshell on the ground below the nest.

We went to the campus a day after it rained heavily in Quezon City. We're hoping that the egg didn't fall off the nest because of the downpour and that it had just already hatched.


Eurasian Tree Sparrow - Jon had also spotted a nest being built by some Eurasian Tree Sparrows in the campus. But when we neared the tree, we saw that it had fallen to the ground! It had fallen most probably during the heavy rain the day before.

It was made from loosely woven stalks of dry grass. We had also seen some nests of the ETS tucked behind the letters of a restaurant along the NLEX. The Kennedy guide describes these birds to "nest in eaves of buildings" or in almost any crevice they can find.


Besra - I didn't expect to see any raptor's nests anytime soon. But I did on our recent trip to Bangkong Kahoy Valley in Quezon. 

According to the Kennedy guide, the Besra makes quite an untidy nest made of twigs. Yes, I agree with that. The nest looked loose and wobbly and also quite unfinished. But the female Besra was sitting in it and the bird looked comfy.

(The Little Heron's nest looked sturdier to me =P)

Chestnut-faced Babbler - This nest was nice and rounded at the bottom. It also looked like it was solidly anchored to the branches of the tree it was in. 

It seemed big enough to house three chicks and when the adult bird sat on it, it was a "perfect fit!"

Blue-tailed Bee-EaterThese birds have burrows for its nests on sloping ground. We see them as simple holes on the ground. I just recently saw lots of them nesting holes beside a toll booth!


This picture is actually the sloping wall of a residence in Subic. The Bee-Eaters are all around, perching on the electric wires.

Chestnut Munia - The latest addition to my nest life list is that of a Chestnut Munia. We saw a munia carrying nesting material to a clump of dried grass nestled among the stalks of a thin bamboo clump. It looked like a loosely woven nest compared to the nests of other small birds.

What was interesting was that this nest was just beside the activity area of Anvaya Cove where there are bikes parked below it and beside it is a ping pong table which is constantly being used.



Pied Fantail - The Pied Fantails make fancy, hanging cup-shaped nests. The one I saw reminded me of a wine glass. The nest looks very sturdy and tightly woven. 



Ashy Ground Thrush - I had some difficulty seeing this nest, not knowing what I was looking for. It looked like a clump of wet leaves and twigs that got caught in the branches of a young tree. But it was a nest alright.







So far, I have also seen (but have not photographed) the nests of the following birds. Some I have seen a couple of years back! Good thing I wrote down some notes about them =) 
  • Black-naped Oriole - I missed seeing this at Villa Escudero but during a recent birdwalk, Adri and Trinket pointed a nest to us. It was nice, neat and rounded at the bottom like the Chestnut-faced Babbler but bigger. The Kennedy guide uses the word "sack-like" to describe it.
  • Coppersmith Barbet - These birds bore perfectly round holes in dead tree branches. You can sometimes see the adult bird poking its head out of the hole.
  • Golden-bellied Flyeater - The Flyeater builds a cute "hanging" nest with a small opening where it can enter. 
  • Crested Goshawk - Similar to the Besra nest. I saw this one in Bohol. It looked untidy and was made with large twigs atop a tree.
  • House Swift - We saw their colony of nests under a "bridge" (or was it a building?) in Ipo Dam. From afar, they look like dried, furry mud. Their nests are made up of feathers and grass glued together with their saliva.
I have previously started listing the nests I've seen. I have now officially started my "nest life list" as I am slowly adding to that list one nest at a time. And I look forward to seeing more! It's interesting to learn about the different ways birds build their nests and even more intriguing is the different "designs" bird's nests have. I prefer small bird's nests because they look more carefully made as compared to the larger bird's nests I've seen so far. But that can change when I get to see more nests!

I think I can safely say that discovering nests makes up for all the migrants leaving =) But I do miss the waders... =)

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Babbler's Nest

The endemic Chestnut-faced Babbler sitting on its nest.
I woke up before dawn to the sound of birds calling: a Common Koel and a Philippine Scops Owl. Jops and I were in a beautiful cottage in Villa Escudero, staying after a guided birdwatching trip from the day before. Even if we wanted to stay longer and discover the other birds of the Villa (including the Koel!), we had already made plans for a trip to Bangkong Kahoy Valley Nature Retreat and Field Study Center in nearby Dolores, Quezon. We met up with Carmela and Jun and drove towards the valley.


Nestled in between Mt. Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw, the BK Valley is a breathtaking sight of greens and blues. Add to that a crisp, cool breeze and you'd just want to lay on the grass with your bins.

The reception and dining hut with Mt. Banahaw in the background.

Sir Dion, owner of BK Valley, took us around the immediate area to bird. We saw some Luzon Hornbills and Scale-feathered Malkoha up in the trees.

A female Luzon Hornbill spent time preening on this high branch.

We also went around looking at the plants, having a berry here and there =)

Jops: "Tsaheylu, Jake, tsaheylu!"
The flowers of the beautiful endemic Jade Vine reminded us
of  the Avatar movie =P

The Milflores (Hydrangeas) were blooming in the
cool weather!

We tasted some mulberrys...

... as well as the more sour wild raspberries that were abundant there.

After a tasty breakfast (served with a delicious version of salabat!!!), we drove a short while to their community to head up the trails. We were going to see a nest of a Chestnut-faced Babbler

Just as Mela described, the community there is very quaint. A small path winds through houses lined with lots of plants with simple landscaping.

The path weaving through their community.

It was a short, inclined walk but challenging enough for me which reminded me to start exercising! We reached a small clearing and saw fellow birder Ely who was on his way down to check out another site. We left the trail and went through a lettuce patch and it was there on a young mango tree that we saw the nest.

It was made of dried grass, tiny twigs and moss. It was rounded at the bottom, as if half an orb and it looked  like it was anchored on some of the tree's branches, almost as if it were hanging onto them.  We set up our scopes and observed the nest. We were able to see three newly-hatched chicks peeping out. They still had no feathers and their eyes were still closed.

Three tiny chicks would peep out from the nest, asking to be fed.

After a few short minutes, a bird perched close to the nest. The parents were there! As soon as they neared their nest, the chicks strained their necks upward awaiting food. Unfortunately, there was none and the parents took off again. We waited a bit more and the adults checked on their nest a second time. 

Suddenly, we heard some rustling in the bushes a tree away from the nest. A Red-crested Malkoha was skulking nearby! A nest raider! I was so stressed! I didn't know what I would do if it went to the nest! The Malkoha flew under the tree and hid in the bushes to the left side of the nest. I quickly looked through the spotting scope to check on the chicks and what I saw was the adult Babbler sitting protectively on the nest!

Adult Chestnut-faced Babbler sitting protectively on its nest, hiding its three chicks from a threat!

The adult stayed on the nest for a few minutes (we assumed it was making sure the threat was gone) before it flew off with its partner to forage in some brambles nearby. It was more than amazing seeing the bird's parental instinct to protect its young from a sneaky nest-raider. Another "wow" experience for me as a birder =)

We soon left the area (we ticked off a Bicolored Flowerpecker as another lifer first) and headed back down the trail. Along the way, we encountered a noisy flock of about 10 Chestnut-faced Babblers! Another mixed flock had lots Yellowish White-Eyes, Blue-headed Fantails and a Sulfur-billed Nuthatch.

We left the noisy flock and proceeded to the site of a nesting Besra which was a short walk from where Mela parked her pick-up. We positioned ourselves in the hide that was recently built so the nesting birds won't be disturbed. 

Birders and farmers crouched in the hide, observing
the nest through the scopes.
The nest of the Besra. If you look close enough, you can see the spotted feathers of the
female adult bird among the twigs.

We spotted the nest with an adult female sitting in it. We weren't able to get a full view of the bird nor could we see its mate. After a few minutes observing the nest, the bird suddenly disappeared from view. We took that as our cue to leave and head back to BK Valley.

We chatted a bit with Sir Dion and ended our visit with a taste of a blood-red fruit shake, made with the fruits of the lipote tree - very fruity and refreshing after our hike. We said our goodbyes and see-you-soons and headed back home with wonderful observations and two endemic lifers for the day =)

Blood-red lipote shake!